As 7-on-7 football continues its rapid spike in popularity, the Texas association has taken a step to make the sport safer.
In January, the Texas State 7on7 Organization passed a rule requiring players to wear soft-shell, cap-style helmets that have a four- or five-star rating by a Virginia Tech study. This rule will be implemented for the 2019 state tournament and the 2020 season.
Texas7on7 executive director Doug Stevens said setting a standard based on the Virgina Tech protocol was important because lesser helmets and headband-style protections can give a false sense of security.
“You could just put something on their head and say you’re protected, but that doesn’t mean they are,” Stevens said. “It was just a piece of cotton, a piece of foam, and said, ‘Hey, put this on your head and you’ll be protected’ – well that’s not true.”
As of the vote, the only company that achieved this four- or five-star rating is GameBreaker. Founder and CEO Mike Juels said the company has an exclusive softshell helmet deal with D3O, which creates shock-absorption technology used in helmets of different types including the military, motocross and police.
Seven-on-seven football is a limited-contact, all-passing game. Now in its 22nd organized season in Texas, the sport was initially created as a way to work on offensive and defensive passing basics year-round while putting players in situations that can replicate pressure better than drills.
As the sport has grown, it’s becoming a recruitment tool for some athletes and schools.
“You have athletes participating in a lot of cases, at showcases where colleges are going to get the film, or they’re going to get the reviews from the 247s and the Scouts and the Rivals,” Juels said. “These kids are full grown, and they’re going full speed, and they’re playing no different than if they were playing in a tackle football game, except where they’re going to tag off.”
While there’s no tackling allowed, incidental contact can put players in dangerous situations as multiple guys fight for the same spot to get a ball. There’s potential for a player to hit his head hard on a person or the ground.
Particularly in competitive situations that can impact recruiting, athletes are likely more liable to throw caution to the wind when jostling for position.
“You’re always going to have incidental contact, you’re always going to have people colliding when you’re converging on a ball, and you’re always going to have people hitting the ground.” Juels said. “We thought, if we’re going to continue to try to grow that game, that there needed to be some head protection.”
The helmets aren’t exclusive to 7-on-7 leagues. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.) High School, the back-to-back National Champion, uses GameBreaker helmets during practice and the offseason, as do some Div. 1 college teams, Juels said. Some NFL franchises have them for development programs.
Now Texas, one of the leading youth football states in the country, is instituting a rule to include safer protocols.
“We want to be proactive, once again, in what we do to put our kids in a position to be safe more than anything else because this is just a game of touch football,” Stevens said. “It’s just a chance for us to go out and work on our skill sets so we can be better in the fall. And so, why would you want to put those kids out there with a chance to get hurt?”